Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has endured heavy backlash from political opponents for his wary stance of the government’s immediate COVID-19 vaccination plans and his sharing information on potential vaccine supplements.
The outspoken Liberal member of Parliament for Hughes said that he is not an anti-vaxxer but he prefers a “wait to see” approach to learn from other vaccination trials before throwing his support behind the government’s move to vaccinate as many Australians as possible.
“I want to expand coronavirus treatments, not limit them,” he told The Australian. “On getting a vaccine, I’m going to tell people to make up their own mind. The government has not made it mandatory.”
In an interview with The Guardian Australia, Kelly said he would be “one of the last people on the list” to receive the vaccine as Australia currently has low infection rates compared to other nations.
“That gives us the option to sit back and see if there are any issues that crop up with the vaccines,” he said.
But following a private meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Kelly agreed to support the government’s A$6 billion vaccine strategy.
“I agreed to support the government’s vaccine rollout which has been endorsed by medical experts,” Kelly said in a statement. “I believe that the spread of misinformation can damage the success of our public health response during the pandemic.”
On his Facebook page, which has over 90,000 followers, the MP has shared articles and studies about drugs like hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and ivermectin, which are currently not recommended by governing health bodies “outside of randomised trials with appropriate ethical approval.”
In his latest post, Kelly shared a Herald Sun report that said some of Melbourne’s top doctors had suggested the two drugs have been effective treatments against coronavirus when taken in the early stages of the disease.
The Liberal MP also posted a screenshot of a COVID-19 study, which found that out of 38 studies, 82 percent found positive results from HCQ use.
Backlash from Left-Leaning Voices
The Australian Labor Party proposed a motion in Parliament on Feb. 2, calling on the prime minister to denounce Kelly’s Facebook posts as “dangerous and irresponsible.”
“We’re spending $24 million on a campaign to tell people to get vaccinated and we’ve got a taxpayer-funded nong running around telling people not to,” Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said.
She engaged in a heated discussion with Kelly in the corridors of Parliament on Feb. 3 over the matter, while branding his ideas as “crazy conspiracy theories.”
The following day, The Guardian Australia’s editorial team has labelled Kelly “conspiracy Craig” and called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “slap down” the independently-minded politician.
And ABC Media Watch said that Kelly “should not be encouraged to spout his maverick views” on COVID-19, like with his views on climate change, saying it would “smear” the government.
Kelly also came under fire for accusing the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce for not being across the latest studies. The government body had said that HCQ use against COVID-19 is “potentially harmful.”
“Catch up with the evidence. Yes, you looked at three studies. Go and look at the other 32 studies and come back,” Kelly told reporters.
Medical Expert Points to ‘Political Noise’ Surrounding Trump
Despite government health bodies and Labor downplaying the effectiveness of both drugs, some medical professionals have voiced their support for HCQ, echoing the information shared by Kelly to his constituents, saying the drug is an effective and inexpensive treatment against COVID-19.
Immunologist and Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy from the University of Newcastle told 6PR, “I have never met Craig Kelly, I don’t know Craig Kelly, and a lot of his views I don’t understand … The data is crystal clear … ivermectin and HCQ are of significant benefit when used early in the disease.”
He also told ABC radio, “I base my comments on science.”
In an opinion piece in Sydney Morning Herald, Clancy said ivermectin and HCQ were a “safe, cheap, available and effective” treatments that should be paired with vaccines.
He said the two medications have been used as antimicrobials for “half a century with impeccable safety records” but were overlooked by authorities due to “political noise.”
The anti-malarial medication received heavy scrutiny after former U.S. President Donald Trump said he had been taking them as COVID-19 treatments.
“Both drugs are used extensively in many countries, with dramatic reductions in COVID-19 deaths,” Clancy wrote.
The opinion piece ended with a disclaimer by the Sydney Morning Herald saying that the Task Force “strongly” opposed patients using the drugs.
But another group of senior Australian physicians, the COVID Medical Network who are concerned about the impact of lockdown measures to contain the virus, have also challenged the government Task Force’s recommendations about the drugs.
“The National Covid-19 Clinical Evidence Task Force cites only a hand full of HCQ Studies as references to its decision to recommend a blanket recommendation that HCQ not be used in the treatment of COVID-19,” according to a report by the network.
The physicians challenged the logic that HCQ is only “unsafe” when it is prescribed for COVID-19.
One newspaper, The Courier Mail, backed Kelly decision to share the information he had learned with the Australian public. The Courier Mail argued that “all views must be heard” and there should be more transparency in the COVID-19 vaccination debate.
“Kelly is doing what every backbencher should be doing—offering and challenging ideas to keep honest the government, of which he is a member,” the article said.